Horne: 4-hour English-learning plan is successful
Arizona Republic
Oct. 5, 2008


Tom Horne has been Arizona superintendent of public instruction since 2003. Here is his response to Margarita Jimenez-Silva's comments on the new Arizona English-language learner model.

Last year, three districts started early implementation of our new models, which require four hours a day of intensive English-language development. Every one of them more than doubled its rate of reclassifying students from English-language learners to being English proficient.

Professor Margarita Jimenez-Silva's arguments may find a place in the sterile environment of academia but do not hold up in the real world of the 21st-century classroom. The public would be surprised how much hostility there is among some academics toward our goal of teaching students to speak English correctly, as quickly as possible, which we believe is a precondition to academic success, which in turn is a precondition to a good life. Jimenez-Silva's colleague at ASU, Kellie Rolstad, published a paper arguing that "linguistic prejudice" (the view that correct grammar is superior to incorrect grammar) is equivalent to "racial prejudice." We plead guilty to believing that students must learn to speak correctly to succeed.

Our survey found that schools were teaching students, on average, 30 to 60 minutes of direct instruction in English. No wonder they were not learning. Our new models require four hours. Last year's data prove that these new models will be one of the most important improvements to be brought to Arizona education.

A federally funded "time on task" study found that the more time students spend learning something, the more they learn. The author's mother said to him: "You needed a federally funded study to tell you that?"

Jimenez-Silva says of our new models "the research doesn't advocate for it." At the following Web address you will find a research summary and bibliography of over 70 sources supporting the new models: www.ade.az.gov/oelas/down loads/modelcomponentre search.pdf

Jimenez-Silva argues that with our models the students will not be able to "use the language in content." At my personal request, the models state explicitly that the English language is to be taught in the context of the academic subjects - a direct contradiction of Jimenez-Silva's assertion.

Jimenez-Silva argues that other states are not using this method. That is why the national rate of reclassifying students from being English-language learners to being proficient is so pathetically low. (Twenty-six percent, implying that it takes four years to learn English, which is much too long.) In Europe and Asia, the intensive language program with a short-term duration that groups students by proficiency level is most common and successful. It is also the method used by the military to teach a foreign language. Arizona is leading the country in showing that students can learn English quickly so that they can compete academically.

These students' parents know that their children must learn English quickly to succeed. If there is any racial prejudice, it's the prejudice of academics who are willing to sacrifice the genuine educational needs of the children to political ideologies so opposed to our country that they don't even want students to learn to speak grammatically correct English.


Reach Horne at tom.horne@azed.gov.